Posts Tagged ‘flotsam’

First Cold-Stunned Sea Turtle of 2008 Rescued

Friday, October 24th, 2008

The Cape Cod Times, “Kemp’s Ridley Turtle Found Stranded,” reports this morning, “The first cold-stunned Kemp’s ridley [sea] turtle of the stranding season was rescued in local waters yesterday [October 23rd], according to the Massachusetts Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.”  Bob Prescott, director of the sanctuary, noted that the turtle weighed about 8 pounds and was estimated at around four years old.  It had an old boat propellor injury on its left front flipper that may have weakened the turtle and predisposed this animal to early cold-stunned stranding.

Cold-Stunned Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle (File Photograph)

Cold-stunned strandings of endangered sea turtles occur each fall in Cape Cod Bay.  These juvenile reptiles, usually two to five years old, become trapped by walls of cold ocean water within the warmer hook of Cape Cod during normal southward migration as temperatures drop early each fall.  When bay water plunges to around 50F, these turtles become cold-stunned, enter a stupor-like state and are tossed on the beach by sustained winds.

The earliest standed turtles, usually found in late October or early November, have the smallest mass, weighing in at five pounds or less.  As the season progresses, larger and larger animals succumb to cold-stunning and are tossed by autumn storms onto the beach.  Species include Kemp’s ridleys, green sea turtles and loggerheads, which are the more massive and usually the last ones to strand.  Occasionally, a hybrid or a hawksbill has been known to strand on Cape Cod beaches.  All strandings, with only an exception or two to prove the rule, occur on bayside beaches from Provincetown to Sandwich, with the greatest numbers found between Truro and Dennis.

Yesterday afternoon’s turtle was discoverd by beach walkers on Sandy Neck beach in Barnstable, brought to the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary for stabilization, and then transported to New England Aquarium for medical treatment and rehabilitation.

Two-Year-Old Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Rescued from Chapin Beach, Dennis

You may recall that the Turtle Journal team rescued a small, pre-stunned Kemp’s Ridley at nearby Chapin Beach in Dennis on September 5th (see Saving a Critically Endangered Sea Turtle).

What to Do if You Find a Sea Turtle

Sea turtles are federally protected and cannot be legally handled without an appropriate license.  If you see a sea turtle in distress on the beach, NEVER return it to the water.  Move it above the high water mark, cover it with dry seaweed to prevent additional hypothermia, mark the spot with some gaudy flotsam and call Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary at 508-349-2615 as soon as possible.  If your call comes “after hours,” you may leave a message on the sanctuary line or you can call the 24/7 turtle hot line at 508-274-5108 any time of the day or night.  The Turtle Journal team will answer your call and respond immediately to rescue the animal.

Very Late Spotted Turtle in Brainard Marsh

Monday, October 20th, 2008

Mature Female Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata)

Every day brings a fresh surprise to Turtle Journal.  As we write this post tonight the thermometer has plunged to one degree above freezing.  This morning pegged a little higher at 41 and nudged ever so slightly upward during the day under clear skies and hefty northerly winds.  Since we figured critters would be scarce, we shot some distant photos of Bird Island this afternoon in preparation for a future kayak trip when winds subside.


Brainard Marsh, Sippican Lands Trust

On the way back to the office, we stopped at Brainard Marsh, a 6.1-acre conservation area under Sippican Lands Trust.  We’ve been monitoring the spotted turtles in a small pond in the middle of the property for the last few years.  With cold winds and chilly temperatures, we didn’t expect to find anything, but the area is quietly beautiful on an autumn afternoon.

Female Spotted Turtle; Notice the Anomalous Bump

Crunching over fallen oak leaves and wind-snapped twigs, we approached the pond as stealthy as the Keystone Kops.  At the edge of a moss covered bank, we spied a small, seemingly immobile rock with yellow dots about 25 feet ahead through thick bramble.  Even though we toe-danced forward, our crackles should have aroused a brumating turtle.  Yet we reached the still immobile “rock” that was cold to the touch and discovered a mature female spotted turtle, fully tucked in and apparently sound asleep.  She must have crawled up the bank to bask in the noon day sun, only to fall into chilly shadow by mid-afternoon.

Female Spotted Turtle on the Move

In bright sunshine she warmed up and stretched her legs.  This turtle sports quite a bump on her carapace (top shell), left of the 4th right costal.  You may notice that she also has a number of shell abrasions and an unusual number of vertebral scutes (8) running down the center of her carapace.

Female Spotted Turtle; Note Colorful Neck, Flat Plastron, Thin Tail

She could easily be identified as female based on gender dichromatism in this species.  Females have bright colored necks (orange or yellow), while males are darkly colored (brown).  Females also have a flat plastron (bottom shell), while males have an abdominal cavity in the center of the plastron.  Finally, females have a slender tail, while males have thick tail.

Male Spotted Turtle; Note Dark Neck, Plastron Concavity, Thick Tail

The image above is a typical male spotted turtle for comparison with dark colored neck, plastron concavity and thick tail.

Female Spotted Turtle Carapace (Top Shell)

A close-up of her carapace (top shell) shows the eight vertebral scutes down the center, as well as her yellow spots.  While they may seem ornate out of context, when she is within her element, the randomly spaced dots blend perfectly with background pond flotsam floating across the surface of the water.  For those who feel particularly sharp-eyed and skilled at turtling, you may enjoy the test below.  Find Waldo; that is, locate the spotted turtle in the photograph.

Where’s Waldo?

Yes, Virginia, there is a spotted turtle in the picture.